BlackBerry is pretty proud of its new phone, the DTEK50. But it’s less a BlackBerry phone than any BlackBerry phone that’s ever come before.
That’s because it’s practically a carbon copy of a different company’s smartphone: the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 4.
We’d known for weeks that the two phones might share a manufacturer: according to FCC and Wi-Fi Alliance certification filings, the BlackBerry DTEK50 comes from TCL, the same Chinese electronics giant that owns Alcatel.
But it’s only now after the DTEK50 unveiling we can see how nigh-identical the two phones really are — the same design, same specifications, same basic Android operating system, same JBL stereo speakers, even the same programmable “Boom Key” that Alcatel was so proud of.
The only notable differences are that the BlackBerry has a textured plastic back instead of a glass one, which makes the phone a hundredth of an inch thicker, and that it comes with BlackBerry apps and software tweaks instead of Alcatel ones. (You might think that the BlackBerry’s black color might be a differentiator, but the Idol can come in the same black as well.)
There’s nothing really wrong with BlackBerry tapping TCL to build its phone. No one company builds any smartphone, really. Apple’s iPhones are built in China, just like all the others. The chips all come from different companies. And many famous consumer electronics weren’t originally sketched by in-house artists, but rather boutique studios like Frog Design or IDEO.
Plus, it could still be an excellent phone.
It’s not like BlackBerry’s trying to hide something, either: in a Q&A session following the DTEK50’s unveiling, BlackBerry design director Scott Wenger admitted the phone was based on a reference design from TCL.
But BlackBerry’s taking things a bit further than phone companies usually do. When was the last time a major phone manufacturer sold a smartphone that also will be available in the very same countries under a different brand?
And what does the BlackBerry name stand for, the company stand for, if not hardware design or the BlackBerry OS? Why would someone buy a DTEK50 over an Alcatel Idol 4? Is it the software and security claims alone?
That’s what we need to figure out in our upcoming reviews of both phones.
BlackBerry didn’t immediately have a comment. Alcatel declined to comment for this story.
Note: some reports suggest that the Idol 4 processor runs at 1.7GHz instead of the same 1.5GHz as the DTEK50, but the company’s US spec sheet disagrees.